I recently attended the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta. This came on the heels of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans and initiating a process to kick out Saddleback Church in California, and others like it, for having female pastors.
Founded by best-selling author Rick Warren, Saddleback became the SBC’s largest church with 55,000 members. To many people, kicking out Saddleback confirms the SBC’s never-ending obsession with theological and moral purity (based on a 19th century definition of purity) and thereby, shrinking the SBC’s influence to irrelevancy. Even the biblical inerrantists are not conservative enough for them.
CBF has long supported women in all ministerial roles, including pastors, so it was a shot in the arm for many women in ministry, as well as men who support them, to be among a body that would affirm and encourage their calling by God.
The three-day CBF General Assembly with its theme of “Holy Ambition” was an uplifting experience for many people who value fellowship among a diverse group of Baptist Christians. I was especially struck by the racial and generational diversity I witnessed in Atlanta. It was the youngest and brownest assembly I’ve seen in my 33 years of attending, looking more and more like America. That bodes well for CBF’s future.
“It was the youngest and brownest assembly I’ve seen in my 33 years of attending, looking more and more like America.”
Despite all the good coming out of CBF, it still is, like many evangelical churches, too slow in responding to environmental crises facing the world.
Interestingly, it is CBF missionaries from third world countries in Africa and South America who are pushing CBF hardest to address our environmental crises. They see the real-life implications of environmental degradation in impoverished regions. The missionaries are able to connect the dots to climate change and its impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations.
In light of this reality, I stood up at the budget plenary session and made the following appeal to the members gathered. This is not a word-for-word verbatim, but it’s close:
I am Don Gordon, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Newton, N.C., the father of three Millennial daughters and sons-in-law. More importantly I am the grandfather of five children who are likely going to live into the 22nd century.
And I can’t help but ask myself, “What kind of world are they going to live in?
We are facing an existential crisis of environmental degradation and climate change. If we don’t repent and alter our behaviors, the prophetic words offered by the scientific community will come to fruition very soon in:
- More severe weather events
- Hotter climates
- Greater droughts
- Rising sea levels
- Loss of habitat for thousands of species
- Massive migration movements that no wall can stop
And it is the world’s poor and most vulnerable who will be hit first and hardest by these events.
I’m asking that CBF factor this sobering truth into all their decisions in current and future budgets.
“The world needs a clear voice that loving God and neighbor includes loving God’s creation.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, the Roman Empire gave way to Christianity not by the sword, but by love. The Romans were amazed the small Christian communities were taking better care of other people’s orphans than the Romans took care of their own. Orphanages emerged not from the government, but from the Christian church.
The same thing could be said of hospitals. Hospitals emerged from Christians collectively caring for the sick.
Eventually universities sprouted up across Europe and North Africa because Christians believed loving God with the mind was a sacred calling.
Orphanages. Hospitals. Universities.
These are Christian responses to real crises.
Now it’s time to do the same thing for God’s creation. While so much of the church is drowning in a quagmire of cultural identity wars, let’s address the existential crisis of our day. The world needs a clear voice that loving God and neighbor includes loving God’s creation.
We may be small, but David was small when he faced of Goliath. Let’s put a few stones in our slingshot and slay this giant. It is and will be a holy ambition.
Don Gordon is founder and CEO of C3 — Christians Caring for Creation. He also serves as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Newton, N.C.